March 3, 2017
Voters in eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia and the elected national governments of Uruguay and Canada have concluded that formally regulating adult-use cannabis is preferable to continuing to enforce prohibition.
The regulatory designs being adopted vary considerably across these jurisdictions, but share the characteristic of falling outside the range of policies allowed under the UN drug control treaties, which limit cannabis "exclusively to medical and scientific purposes."
The treaty questions raised by cannabis regulation are the subject of relatively little attention within the United States, but U.S. state-level reforms and public opinion shifts in favor of regulation are significant for other countries precisely because of the prominent role played by the U.S. government in shaping and enforcing the prohibitionist global treaty regime.
As cannabis regulatory reforms advance in these pioneering jurisdictions in the Americas, an important aspect of the precedents being established will have to do with how countries attempt to manage the treaty non-compliance entailed by regulation, and how other nations and the UN system respond.